Elephant Hills is a tented camp in the jungle of Khao Sok national park. It’s a unique concept as not only is it a luxury tented camp, it also has a floating tented camp on Khao Son lake, has an ethical elephant experience with elephants rescued from the logging industry and supports many other local initiatives.
The tented camp is an all inclusive stay and reminded me of being on summer camp, each activity had a leader who told you where you needed to be, at what time and what you needed to bring. We may have been busy but it wasn’t stressful, in fact it was lovely being completely looked after.
Sleeping accommodation is in luxury tents. The tents come with a double bed and en-suite bathroom. They also have electricity, tea making facilities and a large fan which did a great job of keeping us cool. The tents are more comfortable than some hotels we have stayed in.
Pip had a camp bed next to us in the tent but if you are a larger family then they do have family tents with a mezzanine level with extra beds.
The tents also have a small outdoor area with seating, hammocks and a fan which was very welcome for some relaxation during down time.
The central part of the camp has the reception, dining area and bar. Food is served buffet style 3 times a day and there are also afternoon snacks of popcorn and fruit. There is also a small shop selling souvenirs, locally made items and bug spray and sun cream.
Next to the main area there is a small swimming pool with sun loungers and toilet block.
The camp is laid out for maximum privacy so even though there are more than 60 tents, you only see the few around where you are staying and it feels very secluded. You get the sense that you are completely surrounded by jungle.
The food on camp was out of this world and plentiful. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served buffet style and all start with the sounding of the gong which can be heard from everywhere on camp. There is a huge selection of Thai dishes, salads, vegetables, some western dishes including wedges and chips and a kids section with pizza and more kid friendly dishes.
They are great at catering for dietary requirements and there were at least 3 different vegetarian options, usually tofu as well as separately plated up meals for guests with specific requirements.
Breakfast also had a huge selection with fruit, pancakes and an omelette station as well as the usual breakfast dishes and cereal.
Chilled water is available at meals and there is filtered water available at all times. You are able to borrow a metal water bottle on arrival for use while you are at the camp, these are free to use but there is a charge if you don’t return it.
The bar sells a selection of alcoholic and soft drinks and cocktails at an additional charge.
There are a number of different options for time spent at the jungle camp. We went for 3 nights/ 4 days and our itinerary was as follows:
Elephant Hills transfer from our hotel in Phuket to Elephant Hills by air conditioned mini bus. We arrived just before lunch and as our room was ready we were able to get settled straight away before lunch (normally rooms aren’t ready until later in the afternoon).
Lunch at Elephant Hills
Elephant Experience – we wanted to see elephants in Thailand but not somewhere where they are kept chained up as a tourist attraction and the elephants at Elephant Hills seemed to be living a life of luxury.
The elephant centre is a short drive from the camp and we got to spend a couple of hours there learning about the elephants and the elephant programme. The elephants are all from the logging industry and are now living out their retirement being looked after by the staff at Elephant Hills. Each elephant has their own keeper and it was fascinating to find out about the dynamics of the heard, who likes who and who are not friends! The elephants are free to wander and leave if they don’t want to be there but as the experience involves learning how to make food for them, they tend to hang around. We learned so much about elephants, lots of things that I didn’t know. Once we had out lived our usefulness to the elephants as providers of food they wandered off and we were able to just sit and watch them going about their elephant business. Elephant Hills also support other outreach and veterinary programmes.
There is a visitor centre at the elephant experience that has toilets, water refills and a small bar for drinks and snacks. They also show an elephant that you can watch while having a drink.
Kayaking on the river Sok – Next up was a peaceful paddle down the river Sok starting at the Elephant sanctuary. The 3 of us fit in one inflatable kayak and our boat man paddled us down the river for about 45 minutes pointing out the various wildlife which included monkeys! They left just enough gap between the kayaks so that it felt like we were there by ourselves and it was so beautiful and quiet that Pip even fell asleep.
Dinner at Elephant Hills
Day trip to the floating camp on Cheow Larn lake. After breakfast at Elephant Hills we boarded the transport (either the bigger safari style buses or the smaller mini buses to Cheow Larn lake. On the way we stopped or a quick refreshment and toilet break at a view point over looking the lake where there was also a golden Buddha to visit.
At the lake we boarded traditional long tail boats that took us to the Elephant Hills floating camp. The pier where the long tail boats moor was slightly chaotic with lots of people boarding boats for trips on the lake but the elephant hills staff made sure that the whole process was smooth for us.
Once at the camp we had a few hours to swim in the lake or use the canoes to do our own canoe safaris. The lake water was like bath water it was so warm and there were some huge fish in there but they stayed out of the way of the swimmers. The canoes and life jackets are provided as well as towels for swimming.
Lunch at the floating camp – lunch was a buffet, as good as the lunch at Elephant Hills but on a smaller scale and I still got 3 different types of tofu. The camp has a bar so you are able to get soft drinks and alcohol and refill your water bottle.
The tents at the floating camp are very similar to the tents at Elephant Hills’ jungle camp. You have the option to stay one night there which also includes a a safari hike. We didn’t stay much to Pip’s disappointment but if we were doing it again we definitely would.
Return to camp was the reverse trip, long tail boat and then mini bus back to camp.
Dinner at Elephant Hills.
Day trip to the Mangroves. Again we had a bus transfer to our starting point and stopped at the market on the way where we were fascinated by pink eggs and all the different fruit they had on sale. The starting point for the was a small pier where we boarded a speed boat for a trip through the mangroves where we managed to see monkeys and poisonous snakes.
Our lunch stop was at a traditional Burmese Junket where we were able to swim, the current was quite strong though so we made sure stayed near the boat and the ropes that they put out (life jackets and towels were provided) and had a freshly cooked buffet lunch (all cooked on a gas ring aboard the boat).
After lunch we canoed through the mangroves led by our guides, this was a lovely way to see some of the wildlife including a poisonous snake sleeping in a tree that we gave a wide berth to. The 3 of us shared a canoe which did almost end in divorce but as we were paddling against the current on the way back I was quite glad to have Andy helping.
This was probably our least favourite day out of all of them, we definitely enjoyed it though, we just enjoyed the other days more. If you are doing the 2 night stay then this is the day that you don’t do.
Dinner Elephant Hills.
Breakfast Elephant Hills
After breakfast we started packing up our tent and prepared ourselves for a hike in the jungle. The hike starts at the river at the bottom of camp with a very quick canoe crossing. Our guide started by pointing out which plants not to touch because they are poisonous (a bit like poison ivy) and telling us not to put our walking poles in any holes because we might wake up sleeping scorpions, and finished with saying ‘actually just don’t touch anything’!
We hiked for about an hour and a half through the jungle at a slow pace with lots of stops to learn about the wildlife and plants. The ground was uneven in places and there was some scrambling in areas and it was very hot but it wasn’t unmanageable. The hike finished at our lunch spot which was a shelter with a fire where we were taught to cook various dishes. It felt like we were middle of nowhere but when we heard the lunch gong at the Elephant Hills camp we realised that we were just across the river from the main camp.
Lunch was absolutely delicious and Pip declared the pork and sauce we had as the best thing she ever tasted (she does that a lot!) and it was really interesting to see everything being prepared from scratch with very few tools.
After lunch we headed back to camp where we could have a second lunch and Pip had a dip in the pool to cool off before finishing packing ready for our transport back to Phuket.
Each evening there is a nature documentary shown in the main area of camp, followed by a display of traditional Thai dancing by children from a local school project. There is always a cooking demonstration of one of the dishes that will be on offer as part of the evening meal. These are all optional, if you prefer to spend more time chilling in your tent after a busy day or just have a quiet drink before dinner then that is ok too.
The camp only takes cash payments. During your stay you can charge drinks to your room and then settle your bill when you leave. It’s worth having some extra cash for stops on your day trips and if you would like to buy anything from the shop on camp.
We tipped the guides that we had on various days as they worked so hard to make sure we were looked after and there is also a tip box at reception if you want to leave something for the other staff at the camp.
This was a brilliantly family friendly way to learn about Thailand. We were looked after so well and we learned so much from all of our guides who spoke excellent English and had so much information to tell us about their country and wildlife. From Pip’s point of view she loved making friends, meeting the elephants and the fact that she could try new foods but there was also more kid friendly options too.
We visited in April 2023 when Pip was 10.